Connecting students in the U.S. and Middle East through video games

The U.S. Department of State and partner organizations are connecting students in the United States and the Middle East through video games that raise awareness of pressing global challenges.

“Games have a power beyond entertainment; they can be significant drivers of social impact,” said Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating video games that lead to positive social change.

The State Department, along with Games for Change and the Stevens Initiative, launched the Game Exchange in April. It will convene 2,700 students in the United States, Bahrain, Israel and the United Arab Emirates to develop video games that highlight world hunger, the climate crisis and other U.N. sustainable development goals.

Students will meet in online “game studios,” where mentors from the gaming industry and academia will help them design, code and create video games that highlight the students’ chosen global cause.

The students will follow a Games for Change video game design and creation curriculum and submit their completed video games to an annual Game Exchange competition.

Girl working on video game on laptop computer (State Dept.)
Games for Change, a nonprofit organization, helps students develop video games designed to have a positive social impact. (State Dept.)

The State Department is funding the Game Exchange through the Stevens Initiative. Named for Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who was killed in Libya in 2012, the initiative supports vocational and technological training for students in the United States, the Middle East and North Africa.

Nearly 19,000 young people will participate in the Stevens Initiative’s virtual exchanges in 2021. The programs, designed to “prepare young people to be leaders in our interconnected world,” according to the initiative’s website, include training for U.S. and international students in podcasting, computer science and foreign languages.